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Japanese man confesses to damaging epitaph on Korean victims

CHEONAN -- A Japanese man on Monday confessed to damaging a epitaph at a national cemetery for Korean victims of forced labor under Japan's colonial rule, "to correct historical facts," police said.

Shigeharu Oku, a 69-year-old former member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, made the confession two days after he was arrested upon arriving at Incheon airport, west of Seoul, from Japan, on suspicion of damaging the epitaph for the victims at the Manghyang Cemetery in the city of Cheonan, south of Seoul.

Workers remove a cenotaph for Korean victims of forced labor under Japan`s colonial rule at a national cemetery in the city of Cheonan, south of Seoul, in this undated photo released by the cemetery office on June 26, 2017. (Yonhap)
Workers remove a cenotaph for Korean victims of forced labor under Japan`s colonial rule at a national cemetery in the city of Cheonan, south of Seoul, in this undated photo released by the cemetery office on June 26, 2017. (Yonhap)

The epitaph, which was erected by former soldier Seiji Yoshida in 1983, said Yoshida erected the memorial in order to "express regret for his past conduct" and to "apologize" to the people of Korea who had been conscripted during Japan's war of aggression.

Police said Oku had changed the epitaph on the apology with a cenotaph that he had made at a stone dealer after entering South Korea on March 20. The epitaph which has an inscription saying "the cenotaph erected by Yuto Yoshida" in Korean was found on April 11.

Oku returned to Japan the next day after placing the cenotaph over the original epitaph.

During Monday's investigation, Oku said he came back to South Korea on his own to meet the police's summons, adding he made the change after being entrusted by the son of Seiji Yoshida to correct what is written in the epitaph.

Oku was quoted as saying "If I did something wrong under Korean law, I am ready to receive punishment. But I don't think my action is a problem because I did it to correct (historical facts)."

This undated photo, released by the office of a cemetery in the city of Cheonan, south of Seoul, on June 26, 2017, shows a removed cenotaph for Korean victims of forced labor under Japan`s colonial rule at the national cemetery. (Yonhap)
This undated photo, released by the office of a cemetery in the city of Cheonan, south of Seoul, on June 26, 2017, shows a removed cenotaph for Korean victims of forced labor under Japan`s colonial rule at the national cemetery. (Yonhap)

Police, who released Oku the same day after the investigation, has put him on an exit ban to conduct further investigation into the case.

They also plan to obtain a warrant to arrest the son, Eiji Yoshida, who instigated Oku to commit the crime, and have sent a summons to him.

Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 during which historians say that millions of Koreans were coerced into labor. They also estimate that up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese troops during World War II. (Yonhap)

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